The Breakfast Briefing: Boris Johnson bets that the circus will move on as he defends Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings is at the centre of a political storm.
Your essential morning guide to what’s moving in Westminster from the PoliticsHome team
Quiet weekend, wasn't it?
The mother of all political rows enters its fourth day with no sign of abating, despite Boris Johnson’s best attempt to shut it down and move us all along. Yep, every single national newspaper front page leads this morning with the PM’s full-throated defence of the embattled Dominic Cummings - but if Johnson was hoping for a Bank Holiday reprieve, he might want to look away now.
While you’d expect The Mirror and The Guardian - which broke this weekend’s incredible story about Cummings’ 264-mile journey from London to Durham at the height of the national lockdown - to be sharply critical, it’s the Daily Mail whose line really stands out. ‘WHAT PLANET ARE THEY ON?’ the headline thunders, while a scathing front-page editorial says: “In the clearest way, Dominic Cummings has violated the spirit and letter of the lockdown. In doing so, he has given every selfish person a licence to play fast and loose with public health.” Johnson, the Mail says, should sack him, “no ifs, no buts”.
"Cummings has spent his career defining himself against vast swathes of the conventional Tory party"
Cummings is not the pantomime villain his harshest critics like to paint him as, but he has spent his career defining himself against vast swathes of the conventional Tory party, both the old guard and the liberal types that proliferated under David Cameron. So it was perhaps not entirely surprising yesterday when Conservative MPs, long distrustful of the top Number 10 aide, broke ranks to say they’d had enough of the spectacle.
More damaging will be the raft of ministers who went out to bat for Cummings on Saturday who were privately fuming by Sunday. One Cabinet minister tells The Times: “It’s not a bubble story. It’s on the front page of every newspaper, it is distracting from what the government should be doing.“ Meanwhile the official civil service account’s rogue tweet branding Cummings “arrogant and offensive” gives you some idea of the deep groundswell of support for him in Whitehall.
Labour has already written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to demand an inquiry, as have the Lib Dems, and Keir Starmer nudged the party’s position forward last night as he made clear: “If I were Prime Minister I’d have sacked Cummings.“
Still, Johnson (80-seat majority, remember) has calculated that the circus will inevitably move on. Cummings “acted legally, responsibly and with integrity” and “followed the instinct of every father and every parent”, the Prime Minister told the nation. Cabinet meets this morning - and today we’ll find out if, in the face of the political biggest storm since the election, the PM’s decision to stand by his man can really hold.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING TODAY
Bank Holidays used to be the quiet ones, but this is 2020 so...
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be taking a grilling on the Today programme at 8.30 following last night’s confirmation from the PM that the Government plans to go ahead with school reopenings a week on Monday. PolHome imagines there’ll be a few other questions.
Today's lobby briefing should be a hoot, given that the Prime Minister's spokesperson told us all on March 31 that Cummings was “at home”.
Nicola Sturgeon, remember, had to see the back of her chief medical officer over a lockdown breach, and the SNP were first out of the traps calling for Cummings to be sacked. She’ll be taking the usual Scottish coronavirus briefing at 12.30pm.
All eyes will then be on the 5pm press conference to see which unlucky Cabinet minister has to go out and field a third evening of questions on all this.
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